Arthur R. Lehman, L.L.C.

What acts constitute sexual harassment in New York?

Given the variety of companies and people who work in New York, it's unavoidable that there will be instances in which employment litigation will arise and viewpoints of employment law will be in dispute. One issue that a company tries to avoid in an attempt to protect from lawsuits is sexual harassment. The laws in the state are in place to protect the human rights of employees from unwanted acts and behavior at work. For the employer, these laws are also meant to set a guideline as to what's acceptable and what's not. While allegations of sexual harassment are taken seriously and a company can face harsh repercussions for it, there are times when they're unfounded.

Many people don't truly understand what sexual harassment is and, therefore, they often misinterpret what is applicable under the law. It is a type of discrimination based on gender. It can include behaviors that are verbal, physical and written acts that are deemed sexual. There will be harassment when sexual favors are part of the requirements of keeping one's job. This interferes with the ability to do one's job and leads to intimidation, hostility or offensiveness at work.

The gender of a harasser can be either male or female and it can be perpetrated on anyone. These can include jokes, sexual innuendo, pressuring a person for a social relationship, touching, gesturing and displaying images that are sexual. A person who is complaining doesn't necessarily have to be the object of the conduct. When there is a belief that sexual harassment is occurring, it is important that the alleged harasser is told the behavior is not wanted and needs to stop. A manager at work or an equal opportunity officer also should be informed.

The employer also has rights to lodge a defense if these claims are not true or unsubstantiated. It is not automatically accurate that sexual harassment is occurring if there was a misunderstanding or an attempt on the part of a person to use employment law to receive a settlement when there was nothing of a sexual nature happening. A legal professional well-versed in sexual harassment laws in New York can be of assistance to both the employer who is facing sexual harassment allegations and an employee who believes he or she is subject to this harassment.

Source: NYC Commission on Human Rights, "Employment," accessed March 10, 2015

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